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“Caught Red Handed”: The Latest On Efforts To Privatize The VA

A few weeks ago, the Washington Monthly published a story by investigative reporter Alicia Mundy that challenged the whole narrative about 2014 VA “scandal,” the one in which dozens of veterans were said to have died as a result of lengthy wait times to see VA doctors. In fact, Mundy shows, the department’s inspector general, after an exhaustive review of patient records, could not say with any confidence that even one veteran had suffered that fate. There were certainly problems at some VA facilities; the wait list numbers were definitely being gamed by VA personnel who, like Charlie Chaplin’s factory worker, struggled to keep up with unmeetable performance metrics. The “death wait” allegations, however, turn out to be bogus–cooked up by a Koch brothers-funded group, Concerned Veterans for America (CVA), working with Hill Republicans, in order to panic Washington lawmakers into passing legislation in 2014 to outsource VA care to private sector providers.

In reaction to our story, the chairman of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs Jeff Miller (R-Tea Party) wrote an intemperate letter attacking the story’s key findings as “completely false,” allegations we rather easily countered. Then Miller appeared before the commission his legislation mandated and made a damned fool of himself. Then a faction of the conservatives on the commission were outed for writing up a secret draft of the commission’s recommendations–in which they call for full privatization of the VA—in possible violation of the Sunshine and Federal Advisory Committee Acts.

The latest news on this is that leaders of eight prominent veterans’ groups, including the American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars, sent a letter to the commission chair slamming the secret draft and expressing their united opposition to privatizing the VA. This is an important development. As Mundy explains in her piece, a big reason the privatization push has gotten as far as it has is that the traditional veterans groups allowed themselves to be sidelined politically by CVA. Now, finally, those groups are fighting back. And while they don’t have seats on the commission, they do have 5 million members.

So far, this story has gotten virtually no mainstream press coverage–in part, no doubt, because it contradicts the “scandal at the VA” narrative that the press itself originally reported. But I don’t think this hesitancy will last long–the story’s way too juicy. Independent research mandated by that 2014 legislation not only undermines claims about dozens of veterans dying because of wait times, but also shows that the VA provides the same or better quality care than does the private sector. Yet here you have commission members, many of whom represent corporate medical centers that stand to gain billions of dollars in revenue from outsourcing VA care, caught red handed crafting secret recommendations to outsource VA care at the expense of quality care for veterans.

If I had to bet on who’s going to win this policy war, I wouldn’t, at this point, put my money on the outsourcers.

 

By: Paul Glastris, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, April 7, 2016

April 8, 2016 Posted by | Republicans, Veterans, Veterans Administration | , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“The Veterans Scandal On Bernie Sanders’ Watch”: An Obscured View Of The Situation On The Ground

Bernie Sanders’s tenure as chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee was characterized by glaring neglect of his oversight responsibilities, allowing the 2014 VA scandal to unfold under his watch, veterans’ rights advocates argue.

Sanders has touted his work on veterans’ issues, most recently citing his involvement in “the most comprehensive VA health care bill in this country,” in a debate Thursday.

Left unsaid however, is that he was the chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, responsible for overseeing the Department of Veterans Affairs, as the scandal erupted.

Dozens of veterans died while waiting for medical care at Phoenix Veterans Health Administration facilities, a scandal CNN broke in the spring of 2014. The imbroglio spread with reports of secret waiting lists at other VA hospitals, possibly leading to dozens more preventable deaths.

He held one-sixth of the hearings on oversight that his House of Representatives counterpart held. Republicans griped that they had made multiple requests for more oversight hearings, but received no response. A news host even challenged Sanders as the scandal erupted, saying he sounded more like a lawyer for the VA than the man responsible for overseeing it.

“We feel that he did not live up to his responsibilities as SVAC chairman to provide oversight into this. He keeps hiding behind the mantle [of the title]. And yes, he did pass the $15 billion piece of legislation, but that’s… akin to closing the barn door after the chickens have escaped,” said Matthew Miller, the chief policy officer of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America.

By the time the scandal broke, Sanders had been chairman for more than a year. While the House VA committee held 42 hearings on VA oversight, the Senate VA committee chaired by Sanders held only about seven hearings on the matter.

“The House needed a partner in the Senate to help flesh out the problems at the VA, and unfortunately Bernie Sanders was not that partner. Jeff Miller and his committee were the ones who pursued this and ultimately uncovered [the VA scandal]… only when the VA scandal broke was when [Sanders] ultimately decided to do oversight hearings,” said Dan Caldwell, the vice president for political and legislative action of Concerned Veterans for America.

Republicans on the committee signed a letter shortly after the scandal broke, demanding to hold multiple oversight hearings on the VA, and complained that they had requested “multiple oversight hearings since the beginning of the 113th Congress with none of the requested hearings taking place and no response.”

Even as the scandal was breaking, Sanders was challenged for his defense of the VA.

“You sound like a lawyer defending the hospital, as opposed to a senator trying to make sure the right thing is done,” CNN host Chris Cuomo lectured Sanders as the scandal unraveled.

It was his progressive worldview that blinded him to the problems of the VA, some veterans advocates argued, and it prevented him from seeing the problem as it emerged.

Sanders, some veterans’ rights workers say, wanted to believe that the VA was a model for government-run health care.

“For years, many people within the progressive movement and the left touted the VA as an example of what government-run health care could look like for Americans,” added Dan Caldwell. “Based on Bernie Sanders’s ideology, he wanted the government-run system at the VA to work, because it reinforced his view of what government health care should look like for all Americans, not just veterans.”

Those advocates don’t think his rosy view of what was happening at the VA lined up with reality.

“His worldview got in the way of the facts on the ground. He’s concerned about veterans, but had an almost blind faith in the VA system to where it obscured his view of the situation on the ground as the scandal was unfolding,” said a congressional source close to the legislative negotiations on VA reform.

The problem, the source said, was that Sanders “believed in government, and he believed in it to a fault.”

Ultimately, an emergency piece of legislation was passed that infused money into the VA and created some accountability mechanisms. The Choice Act, as it was called, also allowed vets to find private-care providers if they were unable to schedule medical appointments within 30 days, a major concession that Sanders was forced to make.

“He got backed into a corner and had no choice but to support the bill. The consensus on the committee was strong—to have some more accountability and give veterans some private choices,” Caldwell said. “Bernie just got outgunned… he had no choice. Now he’s turning it around and using it as an example of finding consensus… The bill that passed would have largely passed even if he had walked away.”

The congressional source close to the negotiations said Sanders “helped negotiate this bill and got some of his elements in,” including additional funding for the VA, but only after a late start, having defended the VA during the early days of the scandal.

Sanders cites awards from the American Legion and the VFW as evidence of accomplishments during his time as chairman.

But Miller batted this away: “That’s not uncommon for the chairman and ranking member of committees to get awards from veterans associations. Or, quite frankly, if they’re chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, to get it from a tax-writing firm. Or if they’re chairman of House Armed Services, to get something from Boeing.”

“When vets needed Bernie Sanders to aggressively oversee the VA and hold them accountable, he was AWOL,” Caldwell added.

 

By: Tim Mak, The Daily Beast, February 5, 2016

February 7, 2016 Posted by | Bernie Sanders, Veterans, Veterans Administration | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Has Dr. Ben Finally Stepped In It?”: “We Don’t Need A Department Of Veterans Affairs”

In my TPMCafe column on Ben Carson earlier this week, I noted that he had been pretty vague on a lot of issues even as he had wrapped his extremist philosophy in dog whistles. That’s quite the successful formula, for a while at least, for a stealth wingnut with a powerful biography and a charming manner.

Could be, though, he’s just stepped in a great big cow patty, per Military Times‘ Leo Shane III:

Presidential hopeful Ben Carson’s comments suggesting the Veterans Affairs Department should be eliminated drew quick condemnation from multiple veterans groups, who called the idea short-sighted and ill-informed.

On a national radio show Thursday, Carson said that the country need to re-examine how it cares for veterans but also how to cut back on government bureaucracy.

“There is a lot of stuff we’re doing that doesn’t make any sense,” he said. “We don’t need a Department of Veterans Affairs. Veterans Affairs should be folded in under the Department of Defense.”

Carson said he wants to provide all veterans with health savings accounts to pay for private-sector medical care and reserve defense-run veterans clinics for highly specialized care, like traumatic brain injury treatment and limb replacements.

Ah, yes, the HSA pet rock. But it’s not a welcome idea to the quite conservative VFW:

“To suggest that disabled veterans could be sent out into the economy with a health savings account card overlooks the fact that civilian health care has waiting lists of their own … and presupposes that civilian doctors have the same skill sets as VA doctors, who see veterans of every age and malady every day,” VFW National Commander John Biedrzyck said in a statement.

“(VA) provides an irreplaceable service to the nation’s wounded, ill and injured veterans, and my organization will not let any candidate for any office suggest anything otherwise.”

Them’s fighting words, and other vet groups seem even less pleased:

In a lengthy online essay, Paralyzed Veterans of America Deputy Executive Director Sherman Gillums Jr. called the plan “a misguided notion born from ignorance of what each department does.”

“Those who insist ‘we don’t need a Department of Veterans Affairs’ are likely people who in fact do not need VA care because of good health or cannot access VA care due to ineligibility, as is the case with Dr. Carson,” he wrote.

“However, frustration in reaction to problems in VA combined with ignorance about what VA does and how it works are not the ingredients for a recipe of success where fixing the department is concerned.”

And here’s the thing: this involves the one issue area where Carson can’t say he’s still playing catch-up because he’s been off saving lives for decades. As a physician, health care policy is the one thing he definitely will be expected to “get.”

Politics aside, abolishing the VA health system to shunt veterans (or at least those not picked up by the DoD, which could create another whole set of problems) into the private system is pretty close to the opposite of what we should be doing. As WaMo’s own Phil Longman explained back in 2007, we ought to be making the rest of the health care system more like the VA. No, it’s not perfect; the eligibility system has problems, as well all know; but the actual care it provides at a limited cost remains the best available in the country. And Ben Carson ought to realize that.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, September 4, 2015

September 6, 2015 Posted by | Ben Carson, Department of Veteran Affairs, Veterans | , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Strap The Horse To The Car Top”: Mitt Needs 
A Photo-Op During His Pandering Tour

A 3-pointer at a gym full of U.S. troops in a war zone, or a crowd of 250,000 at a speech in Europe — neither is likely, and certainly not necessary. But Mitt Romney needs a helicopter moment for sure.

Four years ago, Barack Obama — a former state senator with mere months in the U.S. Senate who had no foreign-policy experience whatsoever — went overseas to bolster his credentials as potential commander in chief. He traveled to Iraq, Afghanistan, Israel, Jordan, Germany, France and England. In the midst of two active wars, Obama met with the prime minister of Iraq and the president of Afghanistan and was famously photographed with Gen. David Petraeus, the top military commander in Iraq, in a helicopter over Baghdad.

Dan Schnur, a former aide for GOP nominee Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) — then strongly preferred by voters over Obama on foreign-policy and defense matters — wrote in The New York Times that because the Iraqi prime minister announced support for the same timeline for U.S. troop withdrawal from Iraq that Obama outlined, a Bush administration official was heading to multi-nation talks with Iran and a consensus was emerging in favor of a stronger military presence in Afghanistan, “the three most important pillars of Mr. Obama’s international platform had been endorsed from a variety of unexpected sources.” Schnur added, “That’s a pretty good way to start a trip.”

The optics overpowered the picture of McCain back home — puttering around on a golf cart with former President George H.W. Bush — but the substance of Obama’s foreign-policy agenda made headlines as well.

Romney has arrived in England for the Olympic Games before he heads to Israel and Poland on his foreign trip, where he, too, hopes to build confidence and comfort among voters back home in his leadership ability abroad. Like Obama, he lacks experience, but unlike Obama he has yet to lay out a clear vision or even broad plans for how he would handle our most pressing foreign-policy challenges. In his speech to the Veterans of Foreign Wars in Nevada on Tuesday, Romney blasted the president’s foreign-policy record, suggested Obama has betrayed the nation by allowing leaks of classified information for political gain and lambasted cuts to military spending Obama has supported and that all GOP leaders and most of their rank and file in Congress voted for as well. Romney extolled the greatness of America, and said he was “not ashamed of American power,” but wasn’t specific.

After criticizing Obama two years ago for “announcing the day he’s pulling out” of Afghanistan, Romney suddenly announced in his speech Tuesday that he too would advocate withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2014. His exact words: “As president, my goal in Afghanistan will be to complete a successful transition to Afghan security forces by the end of 2014.” Had he been on his way to the site of our nation’s longest-ever war, Romney would have spent the entire trip explaining his flip-flop.

While in Israel with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, with whom Romney enjoys a decades-old friendship, Romney might offer a new policy prescription for stopping Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons that differs from the Obama administration. He might have ideas about how to depose Syria’s Bashar Assad.

Perhaps in Poland, as he criticizes the Russians, whom he has called “our No. 1 geopolitical foe,” Romney will announce just how he would counter Russian aggression in Eastern Europe and how he might convince the Russians — as well as the Chinese — to help the United States, Israel and our allies confront Iran and Syria.

Perhaps not. But the Israeli border of war-torn Syria would be the perfect spot for a helicopter ride with Netanyahu.

 

By: A. B. Stoddard, Editor, The Hill, July 25, 2012

July 26, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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